Protecting Bewl Water – the crown jewel of Wealden


Bewl Water Reservoir, near Lamberhurst, is the largest inland open body of water in the South East, and as Victoria Roberts finds out, it has recently undergone changes to ensure this place of beauty can be enjoyed by as many people as possible for years to come…

Located on the Kent/Sussex border, Bewl Water covers 950 acres of countryside – including 760 acres of water – and is home to abundant wildlife and welcomes nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts .

But like many sites in the High Weald Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the ‘jewel in the crown of Wealden’, as the local council calls it, is constantly reinventing itself to ensure that the water and its surroundings can be both environmentally friendly. and financially viable.

“When we bought the lease in 2016, the old sailing club had dissolved and we have been developing it ever since,” said commercial director Andrew Daniells. Times.

Bewl, which is managed by Elite Leisure Collection, which also owns One Media, publisher of the Timesworked to diversify funding sources to make the reservoir more sustainable.

“We’ve made Bewl much more accessible to anyone who likes to get out on the water, whether it’s fishing, paddleboarding or sailing,” Daniells said.

Currently, the Bewl Bridge Rowing Club and Canoe Club both pay license fees to Bewl Water, while dinghy sailors, windsurfers, stand-up boarders and foilers pay annual subscriptions to access the facilities. water and water sports. Meanwhile, Bewl Water also issues day permits and chartered boats to anglers.

Yet, at the same time as encouraging serious sports enthusiasts, Bewl Water is also trying to increase the “pay and play” demographic – people who come to enjoy nature or engage in active pursuits.

The landscape offers space for camping as well as trails for walking, biking and horseback riding, but Bewl Water has also added new activities such as the Laser Challenge, water park, open water swimming and rental paddleboarding, Mr Daniells said, adding that non-member visitors could also use the Waterfront Café and play areas – indoors and outdoors.

“We have invested in the construction of a large soft play in one of the largest rooms in the café building.

“Then there are two outdoor adventure areas, which are open all year round. One is for children up to six years old, where they can be supervised by adults, and the other – a large adventure playground with a life-size wooden galleon – is for older children. We think this is one of the longest outdoor slides in the Southeast.

“You don’t pay extra to use them – it’s included in parking access.”

Another development that has helped both members and recreational users is improved water quality.

“When we took over, there was a problem every summer with outbreaks of blue-green algae, which can be harmful to dogs,” Daniells said.

“Three years ago, Bewl installed three ultrasonic units to remove algae. They stay on the water through the summer season, and I’m happy to say there hasn’t been a major blue-green algae outbreak during that time.

Meanwhile, investing in Bewl Water’s online booking and automated check-in process makes it much easier to book a wide range of activities, from water park and Laser Challenge to camping and fishing.

“It’s a great solution for our customers and our business. It wasn’t specifically for Covid-19, but it was introduced in time for it, which really helped during the restrictions,” Mr Daniells added.

Like other outdoor beauty spots, Bewl Water has found its attractions – old and new – experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to pandemic restrictions.

“We’ve seen a lot more attendance, and it’s nice to see that people are still visiting their families. It is a lasting change.

However, like Ashdown Forest, which has also seen an increase in visitors during the pandemic, and which is now introducing parking fees like the Times reported earlier this month, Bewl Water faces challenges on multiple fronts.

“There is a cost to absolutely everything. The increase in the number of users does not necessarily mean an increase in profits. Costs are also increasing,” Daniells said.

“Utilities saw a dramatic increase in prices across the business, as well as consumables such as food and beverage supplies and maintenance costs across the business.

“Utilities saw a dramatic increase in prices across the business, as well as consumables such as food and beverage supplies and maintenance costs across the business.

“Bewl Water maintains the fishing boat fleet, the main visitor area and the trails around the reservoir. We have an ongoing program to replace equipment throughout the estate. This includes bicycles and outboard motors for fishing boats.

“It was really difficult. There is certainly no decrease in costs and nothing has remained static. Everything has increased. »

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A report commissioned just before the Covid-19 pandemic showed that Bewl Water could attract more visitors for adventure tourism, requiring investment in accommodation, said Andrew Daniells, chief commercial officer of Bewl.

“In the South East, it’s not hotels – those don’t fit adventure holidays – but good quality self-catering accommodation that is needed.

“You wouldn’t want to walk around a beautiful hotel lobby with your dirty boots. We would have room for bike storage and dirty boots.

As the Times reported, Bewl Water has applied for permission to redevelop a derelict fishing lodge into family holiday apartments.

Another separate application to redevelop the Boat House is currently with Wealden District Council, with a further consultant survey and reports being prepared before the application goes to the planning committee.

“They will be more energy efficient (than the old buildings) – high-end modern design. Whatever we build will be something sympathetic to the beautiful environment it is in,” Mr Daniells said.

“And any development that takes place will be on the exact same building footprint. We do not anticipate any new build development.

“Each of the apartments would have a washing machine and dryer. People’s expectations are so high now, and we have to exceed those expectations.

“Camping and catering could serve different purposes of this market.”


Pitch for a camping place

Between May and September, families can choose their pitch – which can be booked on the Bewl Water website – and Bewl will send them information about the ancient forest, maps of the site, information on nearby attractions and a copy of the campaign code.

The property has also installed yurts for “glamping”, which now operate from May to September.

Go to the largest reservoir in the region

As the largest inland open water body in the South East, Bewl Water hosts a range of water sports clubs including the Bewl Bridge Rowing Club, the Canoe Club which includes kayaking and sailing with the Bewl Sailing Association and the Bewl Mariners. .

One of the newer sports on the reservoir, Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is run by Turtle Bay Paddleboards, which was founded on the south coast in Hastings.

Community groups and functions

Sussex Search and Rescue (SusSAR) makes regular use of the large body of water. Just before Christmas last year, they could be seen doing exercises in their new boat.

Fire and rescue services also use Bewl Water regularly for their training and water pumping exercises.

The property is also used for charity walks.

And due to its location in the High Weald AONB, the nature reserve is another non-commercial part of the property, and the Sussex Ornithological Society carries out a regular survey of migratory birds.

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